Phil Mickelson had a familiar face on the bag Friday in Mexico Championship. He called him “Bro” not “Bones.”
Mickelson’s younger brother was pressed into duty at Chapultepec Golf Club when Jim “Bones” Mackay fell ill and couldn’t go more than three holes. Mackay was the latest player or caddie suffering from a stomach virus this week, and he gingerly stepped into a cart on the 13th hole.
That’s when Tim Mickelson got the call to step in. He was at this World Golf Championship as the agent for Spanish rookie Jon Rahm, whom he coached at Arizona State.
“I was having breakfast and Phil called and said, `Just be around if something happens,” he said. “Jon had nothing pressing going on so I said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ So I started following and on 13 he called it a day.”
They were on the par-3 13th hole, facing an uphill climb the rest of the nine at nearly 7,800 feet of elevation before making the turn. On the first full hole, Mickelson clipped a tree and made bogey. After that, they didn’t miss a beat.
Mickelson finished with a 3-under 68 and was in contention.
“It was the first time we were able to do that, and it was fun,” Tim Mickelson said. “Trust me, I don’t want Bones’ job, though. I have a whole new respect. Every hole seems uphill.”
Mickelson and Mackay have one of the longest player-caddie relationships on the PGA Tour that dates to 1992. He has been on the bag for all of Mickelson’s 45 victories worldwide, including his five majors.
It wasn’t the first time someone had to fill in.
Steve Loy, Mickelson’s coach at Arizona State and now his manager, was on the bag for the 1993 Tucson Open. Mickelson took his college roommate, Rob Mangini, to Japan in 1995. Mackay once couldn’t finish at the Singapore Open in 2012, and Mickelson’s father-in-law filled in.
Mackay is coming off double knee replacement surgery in the offseason, but this was more about something he ate.
“He’s irreplaceable,” Mickelson said about his longtime looper. “I mean, he’s one of the best in the business. He’s so good at club selection, and here at altitude that’s where he’s invaluable. But he’s hurting. It’s a difficult course to walk because it is hilly. He had two knees done but that’s not the issue, he just hasn’t been feeling well.” Little brother didn’t have to do much.
Tim Mickelson said they both worked the yardage numbers and adjusted to altitude, but it was always going to be his brother’s call. Just like always.
“He’s never listened to me on the course or off the course, so nothing is going to change,” Tim Mickelson said. “We both made sure we did the numbers, and then after that, it was up to him to figure out stuff.”
Mickelson said his brother is a good golfer and knows plenty about the game from coaching at Arizona State. “He understands how to play the game at a high level and how to shoot low scores and when to go for it and when not to,” Mickelson said. “And as a college golf coach for many years, he also understands smart strategies, strategic play and smart plays.”
Plus, the younger brother has seen plenty of Mickelson to know to expect anything.
One of those occasions was on the second hole, when Mickelson was in the trees. He immediately looked to the top of the branches to find a gap and went for a flop shot that he caught a little heavy.
There was no discussion about what kind of shot to hit.
“He didn’t say it, but I knew it,” Tim Mickelson said. “I’ve seen him play long enough, so I knew that’s exactly what he was going to do.”
Mackay was hopeful to be back at work on Saturday, when Mickelson plays in the final group. Tim Mickelson wasn’t asking much in the form of a payment.
“A nice dinner and a glass of wine, and we’ll call it a day,” he said.